Review: The Kremlin’s Candidate, by Jason Matthews

No, not that candidate.  In spite of making every effort to keep up with today’s headlines (references to the Russian seizure of Crimea, North Korea’s nuclear programme and so on), author Jason Matthews never imagines for a moment that Vladimir Putin could have a hand in choosing an American president.  That would be absurd.  A CIA director, maybe.  But not not even the most vivid imagination among thriller writers would have imagined what we have now.

Matthews’ Red Sparrow trilogy ends with this volume, and has its centre the inexorable rise to power of a CIA agent inside the ranks of the Russian intelligence services.  Lest anyone thinks that idea implausible, remember that in its day, the feared Okhrana — the Tsar’s secret intelligence service — managed to plant agents that rose to the very tops of the underground organisation against which it fought.  Among those were super-agents like Ievno Azef among the Socialist Revolutionaries, and in the Bolshevik ranks — Roman Malinovsky and Josef Stalin.  Matthews’ world is one in which the CIA are all decent chaps (though some are bunglers), and the Russians mostly monsters.  There’s even the occasional, casual racism (in particularly, a scene set in Sudan), which does not help.  But overall, the trilogy is a good read and maybe, with luck, there’s even another volume in the works.